What is your why? Do you have a calling? What do your mistakes tell you? What's your brand?

Those were some of the questions hundreds of business leaders explored at CBIA's fourth annual When Women Lead conference held May 31 at Hartford's Infinity Music Hall.

Karen Hinds of Workplace Success Group at When Women Lead
"Lift you up." Keynote speaker Karen Hinds addresses the crowd at the May 31 When Women Lead conference.

One of the keys to overcoming workplace challenges?

Always having honest mentors and trusted colleagues in your corner, said keynote speaker Karen Hinds, founder and CEO of Workplace Success Group.

Sponsors and Champions

"You need four types of people in your life," she told the audience.

Mentors, of which she says "you need more than one."

Advocates are your sponsors and champions, Hinds said.

"They will speak on your behalf in rooms that you don't have access to," she said.

"When you walk into a room, you walk in with all the people that have supported you."

Workplace Success Group CEO Karen Hinds

Colleagues are workplace peers, "slugging it out with you."

Finally, you need young professionals "to pull them along with you, because one day, they will outshine you."

"When you walk into a room," Hinds added, "you walk in with all the people that have supported you and on the shoulders of all the people that lift you up."

'Paying It Forward'

Mentors and advocates can only take you so far.

When push comes to shove, you have to become your own self-promoter, explained Moy Ogilvie, managing partner at the law firm McCarter & English.

"You have different mentors for different reasons," said Ogilvie, who was part of a panel discussion with Phoenix Manufacturing executive Martha Paluch Prou and NBC Connecticut news anchor Heidi Voight.

Heidi Voight, Martha Paluch Prou, and Moy Ogilvie on the When Women Lead panel
Branding: NBC Connecticut's Heidi Voight, Phoenix Manufacturing's Martha Paluch Prou, and McCarter & English partner Moy Ogilvie.

"You should have both sponsors and mentors. A sponsor is someone who will speak for you when you're not in the room."

Voight shared her appreciation for veteran female anchors taking her under their wings and how she adopted the same philosophy with new hires at the station.

"Mentorship is paying it forward," she said.

Personal Brand

Voight, Prou, and Ogilvie agreed that self-awareness—knowing your personal and professional brand—brings "value to your role and to yourself."

"Sticking to your brand and being genuine convey your value to leadership at the top at your company," said Voight.

"Who you are in the workplace translates into every part of your life."

Prou told the crowd that she "almost felt a calling."

"You have to be consistent, and if you're consistent, your brand will create itself."

McCarter & English's Moy Ogilvie

"I never felt that calling before," she said. "I had to listen to that calling.

"I realized that you have to embrace your assets."

Ogilvie said it was important for women to understand that "reputation is everything."

"Integrity," she said. "You have to be consistent, and if you're consistent, your brand will create itself."

Making Sacrifices

A common challenge for women in today's workplace is sacrifice—making choices at work, at home, with family, and in current positions for greater opportunities later.

"Everything is a choice," said Ogilvie. "Find something that works for you and your family.

"I won't say that you can't have it all, but everything is a personal choice. You do have to make sacrifices at some point. You have to have balance."

Voight cited research showing millennial women experience more negative impacts on their careers as a result of having a family than previous generations.

"Women can't work full time and then be CEO of the household, there needs to be balance between parents."

Phoenix Manufacturing's Martha Paluch Prou

"Both a mother and father need to be there for kids," said Prou.

"Women can't work full time and then be CEO of the household, there needs to be balance between parents."

Ogilvie added that employers needed to play a larger role in helping address work-life balance.

"It hurts the workplace when women have no option but opting out of the workplace because of family responsibilities," she said.

"Companies have to be more accommodating."

'Mistakes Help You Grow'

Keynote speaker Carroll Thomas, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership at the U.S. Department of Commerce, agreed that sacrifice, while tough to overcome, can define leadership power in the future.

"Find out who you are and be proud of it," Thomas explained.

"Mistakes help you grow. Embrace hardship—sacrifice is not a bad thing.

"Lean into the hard things in your life, you will grow from that. It's how you find your purpose."

NIST's Carroll Thomas at When Women Lead
"Have a purpose." The U.S. Department of Commerce's Carroll Thomas.

Thomas shared four leadership secrets with the audience:

  • Find out who you are and be proud of it
  • Mistakes help you grow
  • Embrace hardship
  • Develop your connections

"You need to have a purpose in life," she said.

"Otherwise you'll just float along and when something happens you'll be lost."